Sunday, August 27, 2017

Patience Face: My 5.12 Project

This will be nearly unreadable for anyone but myself. It is a full accounting of the effort I put in to send Patience Face (12a) on Dinosaur Rock. Some of it was cut-and-pasted from my Strava reports so the flow and tense will be variable and rough.

When I turned forty I had four big goals, two running and two climbing. One of the climbing goals was to send a 5.12 outside. Back then I don't even know if I'd done a 5.12 in the gym. Anyway, I got one, Meteor Rhoadblock, that year. For the next decade I concentrated on my strengths: 5.6/7 trad routes, but when I turned forty-ten I decided to try and do another 5.12. That year I got Empire of the Fenceless. And then it was back to my usual scrambles. Each winter I'd climb in the gym and each gym season I'd get a few 5.12's clean, but they'd take me lots of attempts.

This year I once again sought to work a 5.12 project and this time I wanted to do one that wasn't in Boulder Canyon, but still close by, which meant in Eldo or the Flatirons. A couple years ago I tried Scratch n' Sniff in Eldo and got crushed. I couldn't touch the crux move and struggled to gain inches. I probably hung 20 times to get up the route and that included aid to get over the roof. It was hopeless and I gave up. Hence, this year I thought I'd try the Flatirons. I picked Patience Face because I'd toproped, with many hangs, my way up it back when my buddy Bruno was working Milkbone (13a), which was just to the right of PF. Bruno would warm-up on PF before trying Milkbone. Bruno was going to project Ultrasaurus, which is just right of Milkbone, so PF was a good choice and we were a team.
Bruno leading Touch Monkey
On our first trip up there we didn't even get on PF, as it was crowded with other climbers. Instead we went across the way to try Touch Monkey (11b). This route is really steep and very burly. I didn't get it even on TR on my first go. I did get it, again on TR, on my second go. Derek was with us and he got it too. On a subsequent trip Derek and I both sent it. I figured if I couldn't send 11b, I had no business working 12a.

Derek leading Touch Monkey
Patience Face was put up by Matt Samet, et. al. in 2008, but it wasn't bolted until 2010 or later. It's a long route for a sport climb, requiring a 70-meter rope to lower off of it. There are 14 bolts on the route, not counting the anchor.

On my first trip to PF on June 25th, Bruno put up a TR for me. My first effort was dismal. So much so that I thought it was beyond me. Subsequent tries still had me failing at all three cruxes and hanging maybe 4 or 5 times just to get between bolts 8 and 9 - the hardest part of the route. I did work out how to get through the first five bolts, which I called the pre-crux and delivers quite the pump.

One the encouraging things about PF, though, was that, despite its great length, there were at least three no-hands rests. I'd eventually find six no-hands rests on route. If it wasn't for these rests, I wouldn't be able to touch this route. My tips hurt so bad after this first session and the route seemed impossible.
The steep, opening moves of Patience Face
I didn't get back to PF for a month and went with my buddy Chris Weidner and Derek. Despite the multiple hangs between the bolts at the crux, Chris convinced me to start leading the route and work it that way. I relented, but assumed I'd be coming down after the eighth clip because I won't be able to make it to the 9th. Chris would then bail me out.

So I geared up and started leading for the first time. Getting to the second bolt is really burly for me and a tough warm-up. I've fallen off here before, but last time I was on it, I made it and I made it again today and made the clip with some relief. There is a pretty good rest a bit higher and I milked it. I then climbed up and clipped the third bolt but then screwed up reaching way right for the hidden hold and fell off. Oh well.

Another thing Chris stressed was to take on nearly every bolt while I'm still working it. If I'm not going for a redpoint attempt (and I was far from that), then I should take on every bolt and save energy so that I could work in free climb all the moves between the bolts. That made sense and I mostly did that the rest of the way up.

I got to the fourth bolt, made the clip and then fell off on the tricky moves right there. I got it on my second try and climbed through the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th draws clean. I hung on the 8th draw as it marks the start of the crux of the entire route. After one short fall trying the crux, I grabbed the draw and used it to reach the slanting slot above the undercling hold. I then barely deadpointed my way up to the next bolt. I was staring right at it, but no way I could clip. I tried another move, but was too chicken to make the run into the pod on the right as it would be a large fall and I was worried about the slight bulge below. I downclimbed a move and then fell off. Chris gave me an expert, soft catch and sailed by the worrisome bulge, not hitting anything. This gave me the confidence to give it a better try on my second go. Cheating off the draw again, I was just barely able to climb into the pod on the right and then reach back and clip the bolt. Whew!

Clipping the 10th draw is really tough and awkward and it risks a bit of a fall, but I got it. I grabbed it and hung, sussing out the next moves. This section is the second crux and feels 5.12 to me as well. I cheated on the draw and only had to do one hard move before hitting the jug and then moving left and up to clip the next draw.

I did fine clipping the next three bolts, the last draws, but the ramp section getting to the last bolt is harder than it looks. And making that clip is also tricky and awkward. I rested on the bolt and then did the final crux, which is a big throw to the left for a jug and then locking off on bad feet to get another jug. I grabbed the chains to clip in.
Moving by the fourth bolt on Patience Face - what I call the "pre-crux"
I lowered and then sort of re-did the final section, at Chris' insistence. This time I climbed up and left of the chains and was able to get up there without grabbing them. I lowered to the ground and it was Derek's turn.

Derek did awesome, leading it on his very first time on the route. He was clean up to the fourth draw, I think, and then took a rest. He was doing it in similar style to me - pretty much resting at each bolt. He made it up through all the draws except the last one. He was just too tired at that point to pull on the small, bad holds and step on tiny things to get up to the last draw. This is a bit of a run and he said that it was a combination of mental and physical fatigue. Still, he did about ten times better than my first go on the route.

Derek lowered off and after Chris refused to climb the route to retrieve the draws, I went up on TR to get them back. Chris only refused to make me get in a second burn. My goal was mostly to get up there as quickly as possible, as I was aware of the late hour and needed to get to work. I climbed okay, but was noticeably a bit more tired and my tips a bit sensitive. As I neared Derek's highpoint I clipped in the other side of the rope so that when I started to lead again, I'd be into three bolts instead of one. I was just barely able to finish the final three deadpoints to the chains, grabbing the carabiner after debating if that was a smart thing to dyno to.

I cleaned the top and Chris lowered me to the ground and we hiked out of there.

Chris spent the entire morning belaying and cheering us on. And he met us at 5:30 in the morning. And he didn't climb anything. Derek used a funny phrase to describe Chris and I can't remember it now, but it was something like "ruthlessly nice." I agree. He's an incredibly nice guy and a ridiculously good climber, having redpointed 14b.

Each of these visits I went up the route twice. I figured years ago I TRed it twice, so I was now six tries into this route.

My next trip up there was spent just belaying Bruno. I didn't get back on the route until August 10th. Bruno and I would meet at NCAR at 5:30 in the morning on a weekday and hike up and get in one burn each before hiking back down and going to work. On this trip, Bruno led it first and put up the draws.

It was only my second time leading on the route and my first time with the draws pre-placed (thanks, Bruno). I got up four clips clean and then just got tired working out the crux section there. I think I know exactly what to do now. I just need to relax, get a slight shake out, and executing the correct sequence.
Stretching for the clip at the start of the second crux.
So, one hang there and then clean up to the eighth draw and the start of the crux. I hung here to rest and then cheated by pulling on the draw. It's still desperate even pulling on the draw and I had to grab the next draw to clip. I hung again and worked out the finish to the crux into the next pod.

I worked on the next crux section a bit but cheated on another draw there as well. I've worked out the top of this section and after making the next clip, I could move a bit to the left into another pod and get a no-hands rest.

I climbed clean up to the ramp and got another no-hands rest there, lying on the ramp. Then got up the ramp and clipped the last draw. I gave this final crux a go and fell on it. I rested went back to the start of it and worked out how to do it and got it clean, so that's some good progress.

I was hoping to either get the start or the top clean and did not, but I made some progress on both. I'll continue with these intermediate goals and once I have them, I'll work on the second crux and then finally work on the first crux, which is brutally hard and the longest hard section, as well.

This was my seventh lap on the route. At the time I wrote that I thought it would take between 20-30 tries, but that was probably just to ease the pressure on myself. I was making progress faster than that, but I still hadn't done the crux section clean, so it might have gone at all.

On Saturday, August the 13th, Bruno and I returned.A great morning on Dinosaur Rock with some significant progress. My goal for the morning was to lead it, placing the draws (I'd already done this once before, but didn't want to regress), climb clean through the first eight clips, and climb clean from above the second crux to the anchors. I'd be happy with getting just the first goal.

On my first go, I got all three! I could have quit and come home at that point. I pulled on the eighth draw to get by the first and hardest crux and I rested on it. I did the same at the tenth draw for the second crux.

Bruno lowered me down and I worked on the second crux and got it clean twice on TR.

Bruno got on Ultrasaurus and climbed clean through six clips, but was tired from new route work the day before and came down to rest.

On my second go (with the draws in place now), I once again went clean to the eighth draw and even got a good shake/rest before trying the crux just a bit. I got up a ways, but was too far to the left. I fell off and then cheated to get by once again.

I rested in the pod and then sent the second crux and all the way to the top! Essentially I have only two feet of climbing that I haven't freed. I do need to link it all once I get it free and linking the climbing between the 8th and 9th bolts will be a bear, but I'm so much closer now. Just one hang on the route and one pull on a draw.

On August 17th, Bruno and I were back.Bruno hung the draws and then it was my turn. I used a different foot placement getting to the second bolt and it definitely made things easier on this 10+ opening section.

I screwed up the sequence getting up to the 4th clip but had the endurance to correct. I also messed up the next section after moving to the right. Just a bit off, I thought. I made it clean up to the eighth clip and struggled to rest before attempting the crux, which I didn't really know how to do. It went as expected: poorly.

The feet here are really bad, but to make up for that, the handholds are very bad as well. I guess that's why it's 5.12. I tried a few things and failed badly, but then I noticed a tiny edge that I could use for my right foot. Getting the sequence right to get my foot there took trying a few combinations, but I worked it out. Once I had my right foot on it, I could then move up my left foot high enough so that I could do the cross-over move to get the sloping slot with my left hand. I continued, just barely, to move upwards and grab the ninth draw. Just clipping in was hard, as I was so pumped.

Cool. So now I've finally free climbed between the 8th and 9th bolts. To get it clean on a redpoint I'll have to climb clear into the pod, but involves a few more hard moves, but I have the sequence worked out. I just need to build the endurance now. On my next trip up here the goal will be to link from the 8th draw into the pod. I've gone clean from there up and I can rest as long as I want, so I should get it from there, but there are plenty of places to screw up above there.

Once in the pod I rested and then tried the second crux. I screwed that up as well and fell off it. After resting, I got it on my second try and climbed clean up to the ramp rest and then stuck the finishing crux, barely, and clipped the chains without grabbing them. So, the finish is getting better. I did have some stress getting to the jug at the bottom of the ramp. I don't have that area worked out very well. It's so balancy with a couple of terrible holds, but I don't really need to move much on them. Just get stable and then hit the jug.

I cleaned the route on rappel. When cleaning I have been clipping into the other strand so that I can pull back onto this overhanging and traversing route to clean it. If you don't do this, you'll be 20+ away from the wall. When first cleaned this way and unclipped the last draw I swung out hard and pulled Bruno with me because the rope on him was now going straight to the anchors, instead of through the first bolt. He stumbled along the ground for a bit and everything was fine, but I thought that maybe I should have unclipped from the other line before unclipping from the last draw. that way I wouldn't pull Bruno with me. On Sunday, I did this, but it's dangerous. I cleaned the lowest draw before cleaning the second draw. Then I unclipped from the rope going to Bruno, unclipped the second bolt and then swung out, gaining lots of speed and then hitting the rock bulge at the base of Milkbone, rather hard. I bruised my hip and the heel of my hand, even with my feet bracing myself a bit. That sucked.
Danny on the opening moves of Patience Face
Today, trying to do better, after unclipping the lowest two bolts, I climbed up to the third bolt and let go. I still hit the slab, though it was better this time and no injuries, but scary and dangerous, with injury potential to be sure.

I'm now convinced I should NOT unclip from the rope leading to Bruno. I will pull him across the ground a bit, but he will greatly slow my swing and I won't hit anything hard. Maybe we just need to anchor Bruno. But I'm definitely not cleaning this route correctly right now.

The following week, on August 22nd, I went up there with Mark Oveson, specifically to try and link from the eighth to the ninth bolt.Mark's ankle gets fused tomorrow, so in maybe his last outing before going on crutches for 6-8 weeks he agreed to give me a belay on my project. We hiked up his his daughter Mallory and her soon-to-be-fiancee (don't ask) Theo. After dumping my pack at the base of PF, we hiked up to the backside of Der Zerkle and I pointed out some of the sport climbs there for Mallory and Theo.

Mark and I returned to the base of PF and geared up. I had Mark use my Grigri but failed to show him how to work it. I got a chance to do that after he short-roped me on the second clip. I didn't come off or have to hang, but go an extra pump waiting for the rope. After I got the shoulder-jam rest, I told him about the pinch-and-pull technique and he was good to go for the rest of the pitch.

My plan was to climb up to the eighth bolt and take on it. My goal for the morning was to climb clean from this bolt through to clipping the ninth bolt - the crux of the entire climb. This is the only section that I hadn't got clean yet.

There is semi-rest at that bolt, but it's bad, so I just hung on the bolt. After a rest and working out my plan, I went for it. I don't use the low undercling hold on the left really at all. I start by slapping up on the arete and then getting my left foot on the sloper. I then bear down and get my right foot on the tiny edge I found last time. I stand up, get the upper undercling hold, move up the left foot. Cross-through to the slot hold. Right foot up. Bump the right hand through to the crimp. Cool. Then stay strong and keep moving on the bad holds and tricky, smeary feet until I can reach way into the pod on the right and grab the jug. Sweet! Clean for the first time.

I got the second crux clean as well and then climbed up to the final crux and barely got that as well. Up to the chains, no grabbing of chains, and clipped in. My best effort so far. One planned hang. No pulling on draws. No cheats on clips. I'm officially in redpoint mode now. Hopefully get this baby on Thursday.

But I didn't on Thursday. It was my time for a full morning of belaying Bruno and I was happy to do it, but anxious to get a redpoint go on PF. I got that two days later, on Saturday morning, when Bruno and Danny Gilbert joined me.
We met at 6 a.m. and hiked up nice and slow. I tried to tell myself that there was no pressure. This was my first real redpoint attempt. I'd get in two tries this morning and might need 2 or 3 visits (4-6 more tries) before I sent it.

I fumbled the second clip for the first time and that took a bit more energy. I didn't dwell on that and got a good rest at the shoulder jam. I then climbed smoothly up through the pre-crux of the first five bolts to the no-hands rest. I rested a good while here and then sent the crux for only the second time and into the pod for another no-hands rest. I'd climbed the route clean from there to the top before, so I knew I had a good chance, but there are two more cruxy sections that are at my limit.

The next crux is just a big deadpoint and I hit it and moved smoothly up to the no-hands rest on the ramp. I could take a nap up here on my belly.

On the final crux, I missed my bump to the left first time, but had ample power to adjust it and then almost statically reach way left for the jug. The next two moves, normally deadpoints for me, were no static moves and I had tons of power left. I easily clipped the chains.

I let out a whoop of joy and heard the same from my friends below. When I hit the ground Bruno and I embraced. I bumped fists with Danny. At the top of that route, listening to Bruno chant, "Come on! Come on", I wanted to send it more for him than for me. I didn't want to let him down.

This is only my third outdoor 5.12 and the first not in Boulder Canyon. It took me 12 tries. What a great morning! This was my third major climbing goal of the year (after climbing El Cap and the Diamond with Derek). Thanks to Bruno, Chris, Mark, Danny, and Derek for all the help in getting this done! But mostly Bruno. :-)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mt. Shuksan with the Loobster

I love the Loobster. I've climbed with him for thirty years. He's twenty years my senior and while we've been equal partners in the past, I'm finally, maybe, the stronger one. His endurance and energy is inspiring to me. I used to say, "I sure hope I can do what the Loobster does when I'm his age." I'm doing what he did at my current age, but he doesn't seem to be slowing down much and now I'm not sure I even want to do what he's doing when I get to that age. It just seems too hard.

I've done so many climbs with the Loobster that we've been at our limits together. Climbing can be stressful and the Loobster has seen me at my best. And my worst. My love and respect for him is so great that whenever I think of climbing with him I can't, for the life me, forget my bad moments. My short temper. My fear and stress breaking me down into a person I don't want to be. But the past is the past and I now use it for extra motivation to be mindful, to be calm, to caring, to be thoughtful, to be more like the Loobster. It's very encouraging that he stays interested in climbing with me. And, perhaps, I am judging my past behavior too harshly.

Our route
Early in my climbing career I was primarily guided in my goals by the book "Fifty Classic Climbs in North America." I love lists and love checking things off. I'm very goal oriented. In the preface to this book it states that no one person (at the time of printing, 1980 or thereabouts) had yet to even climb half of these routes. That became my goal and now I've done over thirty of them. Of course, many others had the same goal and now there are at least a few people with 48 of them, but no one has yet climbed them all and that is not my goal either.

The goal of the trip was to climb the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan. Shuksan is in the North Cascades National Park and looms over the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Not living in the Northwest, I only became aware of the mountain via “Fifty Classic Climbs in North America.” This book guided most of my early climbing and I’ve done over thirty of the routes. My interest in these climbs has been rekindled. It might be reasonable to get forty of them. I have unfinished business on at least one and new places to go for others. Shuksan is one of those places. The 50CC route is the Price Glacier - complex ice fall on the north face. My interest in the Fisher Chimneys was in learning the descent off of Shuksan for a subsequent attempt on the Price Glacier.
Camp I in the Mt. Baker Ski Area parking lot.
The North Cascades are incredible, striking mountains, looking more Alaskan or Andean or even Himalayan in nature compared to my beloved Colorado Rockies. While they are comparatively low in altitude (none of the non-volcanic peaks are above 10,000 feet), they have numerous glaciers with huge crevasses and terrifying ice falls. The vertical relief is also huge and approaches can be quite arduous. The Fisher Chimneys route has one of the easier approaches, but just getting to the higher bivy spots involves more difficult scrambling than getting to the summits of most Colorado 14ers. Our plan was for me to fly into Seattle at 1 p.m. and for the Loobster to pick me up and then drive the three hours to the trailhead and hike four miles into Lake Ann, where we’d camp, before climbing the peak the next day.

Things didn’t go as planned. That’s okay. We rolled with it. It started to go off the rails with flight problems. From a late plane to air traffic control issues to baggage problems we proceeded to leave the Sea-Tac airport two hours behind schedule. Seattle traffic and a couple of accidents conspired to add another hour. That wouldn’t put us on the trail until nearly 8 p.m. so we decided to sleep at the trailhead and try the climb in a day. After a stop for dinner, we arrived at the trailhead. Loobster wanted to pitch a tent off in some discreet area we knew not where. I convinced him, with some difficulty, to just throw down our bags in a large parking lot just down from the trailhead. He was worried about ranger detection. He worries a lot more than I do.
Looby Dooby Doo
Our second plan went awry when the Loobster called over to me at 2:30 a.m., an hour before our scheduled wake-up time. He told me he hadn’t slept a wink and would not be capable of doing the route in a day on no sleep. He’s had this sleeping problem before when large, stressful outings are imminent. We modified again, this time to turn off the alarm, sleeping until we were rested and just hike into Lake Ann on Saturday and do the climb on Sunday. That eliminated any chance to recce another 50CC mountain, but Slesse isn’t going anywhere. We got up around 6:30 and re-packed for the overnight plan. The Loobster brought me a one-man tent (he had one as well) and a small pad. I brought a tiny sleeping bag and a JetBoil stove.

We weren't hiking until nearly 9:30 a.m. There was no need to rush, as we weren't going very far. Part of me thought we should still just do it in a day, but I knew that would stress the Loobster and kept my mouth shut. We lingered on the packing and ate some breakfast.
Lake Ann at 4600 feet on August 5th. Crazy
The trail into the lake immediately dropped 800 feet. It then followed a Valley for two miles or so without climbing at all. Finally, in the last mile to the lake, we climbed back up to the elevation we started at, about 4700 feet. Seeing Lake Ann was a shock. In August, at 4700 feet, the lake was still almost entirely frozen over and covered in snow. I wondered what percentage of the year was Lake Ann actually a liquid water lake.

We got a good view of Shuksan here, but we'd been able to see it for a lot of the hike and the mountain itself is prominent from the road...if the skies are clear. The weather was great the entire trip, but epice forest fires up in British Columbia had caused the entire North Cascades to be inundated with smoke and, while breathing wasn't an issue, everywhere we looked we saw a brown haze, making everything else appear a bit ghostly.

We didn't even sit down at the lake, but continued on, as we'd heard there were sites just past the lake. The trail dropped again, this time less than a hundred feet and we didn't spot any enticing spots before the trail started climbing again, with a vengeance. The trail narrowed to more of a climber's path and switch-backed up a steep slope.

Hiking in to Camp II
We went long enough where the Loobster was doubting that there were any bivy sites up there. Finally, he dropped his pack and just continued up without it, just in case we'd be turning around. a little higher up we ran into two climbers on their way out. They had summitted that day and told us about some nice sites above the shoulder above us and below the Fisher Chimneys. I gave Loobster my pack and hiked down the hill with the two climbers to get Loobster's pack. After saying goodbye I hiked back up to join the Loobster at the crux of the approach.

We had to inch out on precarious tongue of snow and step across to steep slabby rock. It was only maybe twenty or thirty feet of climbing, but in my mountain boots and with a pack on, I thought it was a bit dicey. The Loobster styled it, though. This guy, at 74-years old, is strong and agile. And confident. Above this crux the terrain stayed steep, but was now just third and second class.
Fisher Chimney from Camp II
After less than ten minutes of climbing we crested the shoulder and immediately found a couple of tent sites. Each site was pretty small and the Loobster occupied the lower site and I was just fifty feet away, a bit further up the slope. The first thing we did after dropping our packs was to take off our boots. We both carried our approach shoes into camp and should have worn them and carried the boots, but our packs were a bit small and we feared we wouldn't have room. We'd both get the boots on the pack on the way out however.

It was still early afternoon and after setting up camp, I couldn't resist and headed off to check out the Fisher Chimneys. I carried a nearly empty pack with me and wore my helmet and brought one axe. We had both carried two axes into basecamp, but after talking to other climbers, decided that one axe would be sufficient. I crossed three easy, small snowfields and started up the Chimneys. The 800-foot climb up the rock wall is a mix of second, third, and fourth class climbing on mostly very solid rock. I ditched my pack and axe early on, but kept the helmet on as a couple of big parties were descending above me. These parties were rappelling a couple of sections, and maybe one section was low 5th, but I don't think so. Excellent terrain for a Minion.

These three photos are all part of the Fisher Chimneys
I buzzed on up to the top of the rock section and stepped onto the White Salmon Glacier. this is a large glacier, but I was nearly at the top of it when I got on it and it was very low angle. And I was on it for about one minute before I hit talus and scampered up to the first of two steep snow/ice sections on the route: Winnie's Slide. This is maybe a 200-foot 45-degree slope that was hard snow with nice steps kicked in it. I didn't venture further as I was just in my running shoes with no traction.

I reversed the route back to camp where the Loobster was trying to catch up on his sleep. Somewhat revived, he went off to scout the route as well. If I had known he was going to do that, I'd have waited. He probably didn't know that either, but he got some rest was feeling good and is generally not one who can sit around in camp. So, off he went. I read my book.

We add a nice dinner from Backpacker's Pantry or something like that and got to bed pretty early. We didn't see any need to move in the dark, so settled on a casual start. We set the alarm for 5 a.m. and after a cup of coffee, we were moving by 5:30 a.m. We carried our mountain boots to the base of Winnie's Slide and then switched into them. A quick jaunt up the slide and a short traverse and we arrived at the upper bivy location, where a couple of teams were packing up to head down.

Loobster on Winnie's Slide
Here we got onto the Upper Curtis Glacier. The Lower Curtis Glacier was 1000 feet lower down, below the rock wall we climbed up. The start of this glacier was the only place we encountered real ice. It wasn't that steep, thankfully, as we had just the one axe. We were careful not to slip or fall here, as a self-arrest was impossible. Soon it was back to snow, though, and we climbed upwards into a magnificent bowl, where the angle eased off. Above us loomed Shuksan, but guarded by very steep rock and a steep snow/ice couloir. We turned hard right and descended about 250 feet to the base of Hell's Highway - the other steep section on the route - which we climbed up to the Sulphide Glacier.

The Sulphide Glacier route is the standard route on the peak and the route the Loobster took on his first time up the peak. It's a low angle glacier walk up to the summit pyramid. When we joined that route, we met a solo climber. I forget his name, but he was a fit dude, doing the peak in a day, after doing a 20-mile Enchantment hike the previous day. He was a dentist from Boise. He gapped us going up the final part of the glacier and we headed over to the far right to climb the ridge instead of the standard route.
Heading up the Upper Curtis Glacier. Shuksan's summit looms above.
At the base of the rock the Loobster and I stashed our boots, crampons, and axes and switched into our scrambling shoes. We had 600 vertical feet of really fun, exposed, low-5th class scrambling up the ridge. We had our 100-foot a rope with us, but never pulled it out of the pack. We got to the summit at 9:30 a.m., taking just four hours from camp.

On the summit we hung out with the dentist and I bragged about my two most impressive climbing partners: the Loobster and Derek. He was suitably impressed with both. He cranked his head around so abruptly when I mentioned Loobster's age that I thought he was going to get whiplash. He said, "You're 74?!" That was the reaction I was looking for.
We don't have this in Colorado!

Descending towards Hell's Highway
After eating our sandwiches and watching a big group take 30 minutes to complete the first rappel down the standard, we started down. The dentist followed us down our route and he told us that he was off to climb the Eiger later that month, doing the same route that Homie and I did in 2013. We parted ways at the bottom because he started up from the standard location. When we got back to our gear stash we found a party of three - a guide and two clients. As we switched back to boots and crampons we watched these two clients, both younger than the Loobster and one of them younger than me, struggle to start up the first ten feet of rock. One of them fell here. Not my partner. Good thing, since we weren't roped. The Loobster's got game.
On the Sulphide Glacier
It was cruise reversing the route back to camp, where we took our time packing up. The Loobster has an interesting routine whenever he packs a backpack. Each item is placed into the backpack is removed at least once. I leaned back against my pack and observed all this and resting up the hike out, which was more tiring than I expected. The last four miles from the lake to the car seemed like six miles. We knew we had to climb 800 feet back to the parking lot, but the trail stubbornly refused to start climbing. We were both a bit pooped by the time we got there.

Heading up the summit pyramid
We changed into more comfortable clothes, threw in the packs, and hit the road, looking for a suitable restaurant to celebrate our success. We found a great Mexican place in a tiny town and gorged ourselves. Later, we continued to a rest stop on I-95, getting there at 10 p.m. I packed for the plane there and then we threw down the backs and slept for four hours before getting up at 2:30 a.m. so that I could be dropped at the airport by 4 a.m.

What a great trip with the redoubtable Loobster. We have more trips in our future. He doesn't appear to be slowing down much. Nor speeding up his packing. But we still mesh pretty well together on climbs. Thanks, Loobster!
Another great summit for us.
It was tempting to return to this peak the very next weekend and do a Minion-style ascent. The conditions were perfect right for a running-shoes-Kahtoola-steel-crampon-light-axe ascent. Carrying nothing but the crampons, an axe, a 3-ounce wind shell, a light pair of gloves, and minimal food and water, I think I could make the summit, from the car, in around five hours. Maybe six. I’d highly recommend this approach to any Minion with the time and interest. Shuksan is a worthy mountain and very complex. Every route involves glacial travel, but very safe conditions exist right now. Go get some.

Looking back at the mountain on the way out. Smokey, but still majestic. The glacier at the bottom is the Lower Curtis Glacier. The hanging glacier above is the Upper Curtis Glacier. We traversed that and when through that prominent gap.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Diamond with Derek

Derek traversing the last pitch of the Casual Route


I tried a new strategy in climbing the Diamond today: start late! Why do that? You run the risk of being behind a lot of parties and getting caught by afternoon weather. Yes, but you get to climb the North Chimney without a bunch of, possibly inexperienced, possibly careless climbers bombing potentially lethal rocks down on you. Avoiding this risk was the motivation in starting late and whether that would reduce the overall chances of success I wasn't sure. Derek deferred to me, but was very skeptical of this approach. He wanted to get the Diamond no matter what and would start as early as necessary. It turned out luck was on our side.

We left the house at 4:35 a.m. with Sheri. Already it didn't feel like a Diamond day. Sheri would hike into Chasm Lake with us and distribute her father's ashes, who died earlier this year. Derek and I carried some of his ashes to distribute atop the Diamond and on the summit of Longs Peak. Sheri's father, Stewart, was a wrangler in RMNP in his youth and he climbed Longs Peak and cherished that memory.

After parking nearly a half mile down the road from the trailhead, we started hiking around 6 a.m. In the light! It felt so strange. But so nice not to be getting up in the middle of the night and not to be hiking via headlamps. We carried a rack entirely of cams and 12 slings. We carried one 60-meter rope. I threw in a few stoppers in the pack, for anchors, in case we had to bail.

We bid goodbye to Sheri at the lake and continued up to the snow below the North Chimney. We met a solo climber there, Nick. He was planning to just check out the North Chimney and then rap down. He started up slightly in front of us. As planned, no one was in the chimney (besides Nick now). The weather was perfect. All the way up from the lake we saw only one party on the Casual Route (starting the third pitch) and one party on Pervertical. Amazingly, we'd eventually catch the party on the Casual.
Derek on the first pitch of the Casual Route on the Diamond
Derek and I put on our Microspikes and made it up the snow to the rock. We switched into rock shoes and roped up. We simul-climbed the North Chimney and I caught up to Nick when he was trying to exit the chimney on the left. He said the guidebook told him to stay left up there. That's incorrect and very dangerous for any climbers below him. I steered him to the proper exit on the right. I got to Broadway just when he did. He thanked me for the beta and we both moved on into the traverse to the base of D1. I put in a Micro-Traxion at the start of this traverse.

When I got to the base of D1, things changed, badly. A party was just starting up the Casual Route and either a party of three or more or two parties were climbing something off to the left. They were trying to climb the Casual Route and started up the wrong route. Nick directed the other party onto the correct start for the Casual. Dammit, Nick! I was supposed to direct them there AFTER passing them.

I was afraid that if we got behind this party (Max and ?), that we'd then get behind the other party or two after they corrected. I needn't have worried as the other party couldn't have traversed to the Casual and continuing straight up to join the Casual was, apparently, not doable either. These guys eventually bailed. But in the heat of the moment, I didn't know this. Pretty much out of gear, but desperate to not get clogged up after assuming we had the route open, I continued straight up the first pitch of the Diamond, with Derek still simul-climbing down in the Chimney. The party I was climbing through said "Apparently there is a big traffic jam above, too." This made me flashback to the horrible experience Derek and I had passing four incredibly rude, amazingly slow, and astonishingly clueless climbers on the Grand Teton when they said the same thing with no climbers in sight. I pointed up at the route and said, "Just look up. There are zero climbers on the first three pitches of the Casual Route." The guy responded with something like, "Aw man, those guys steered us wrong." "Those guys" were the party that wasn't even on the route. This made me think the party I was trying to pass was going to be like those Teton climbers and I went into a slightly aggressive climbing mode. I wouldn't be a dick, but I would try my best to get by.

I could only make it halfway up the pitch, but hopefully made my intentions clear to the other party. Derek joined and we quickly re-racked and I was off leading again before their second started climbing. I just told Derek that I was going up there and would hopefully negotiate a pass.

I climbed quickly up to Max and introduced myself and said, "Hey, we're simul-climbing (we weren't at the time) and I was hoping to maybe climbing through. How do you feel about that?" He responded, very cheerily, "No problem, just keep going. I made a mistake at the start in my excitement and went the wrong way." I thanked Max profusely, offering to buy him a beer, but knowing I'd never see him again.

I moved up the next, very steep pitch, still wearing my pack. Our original plan was to combine our packs into one that Derek would carry, as the second. I climbed up to the start of the traverse and moved left. I thought I'd belay in my normal location, in the slot, thinking we were by those guys and I didn't really need to perpetuate the thought of simul-climbing. Heck, Derek would be onsighting this route and to add the pressure of simul-climbing was too much.

But when I got to the slot, I kept going. I had promised those guys we were simul-climbing and if I could combine the first three pitches we'd be free of them for the rest of the climb and no one would be held up. Could Derek handle the stress? I thought so. I hoped so. Before moving on, I yelled down to check on Derek. "How's it going, Derek" He immediately responded, "Great." So I moved on. Later I would hear from Derek that at the time he was just at the top of the first pitch, just passing the other two climbers. What else could he say at that point? "I'm not comfortable with this and I want you to belay me?" Sure, he could have, but knew that would make these guys unhappy. He continued up a bit too quickly and had a loop of extra rope to add to his stress on the steep ground.

I climbed through the awkward slot and just above it I placed a bomber piece and my second Micro-Traxion. I called down to Derek with that information to ease his stress and continued up to the top of the third pitch. I put Derek on belay and 200 feet later he joined me. I was super impressed with what he had just pulled off - simul-climbing the first three pitches, on the Diamond, on sight, wearing a pack, and being the stressful bottom climber. It set us up for a great chance at the Diamond, but I knew I had asked a lot of him. He performed amazingly. Getting through the awkward slot below with a pack on is quite difficult.

We re-racked and soon I was off up the massively long fourth pitch. This pitch climbs a very steep, sustained dihedral that is perpetually in the shade. 24-7-365. This corner is the coldest place on the Diamond. It's rated 5.8, but it feels 5.9, especially with numb hands. Both Derek and I would experience cold enough hands to make the climbing feel quite difficult at times.

I got to the ledge above and put Derek on belay. The party below us had also decided to do some simul-climbing, thereby staying way closer to us than expected. I don't know if this added to Derek's pressure or not, but sometimes he had the other leader close behind him.

Derek took awhile on this long pitch and even experienced the screaming barfies when his hands went really numb. My hands didn't get that bad. He took extended rests to try and regain the feeling in his hands. At one point, without the rope moving for awhile I called down cautiously, "How's it going, Derek?" He called back, "I'm struggling."
Derek at the top of the crux pitch
While Derek was climbing this pitch I noticed a climber rapping a line above and to my right. I knew Chris Weidner and his partner Bruce were working on a new route on the Diamond and I knew it was further to the right, and I knew they were up here the day before, but I thought with the good weather that maybe they came back. The climber was too far away to identify, so I just called up, "Hi up there. Is that Bruce?" "No." "Is that Chris?" "No, it's Phil." I thought he might have said, "Is that Bill?" so I responded, "It's Bill Wright." They he called back, "Hi, Bill! It's Phil Gruber!" I'd climbed the Diamond in winter with Phil years ago. Despite just jugging up behind him, it was one of my prouder moments on the Diamond. Like jugging up behind Stefan on D1. Phil was there all by himself working on freeing a 13c route called "The Honeymoon is Over," first climbed by Tommy Caldwell. Bad ass! Phil is the Jim Herson of Colorado.

Derek made the ledge, though, and soon his hands started to regain normal feeling. We'd now caught the party above us, so there was no real pressure on us. Here I left my pack behind, because of the squeeze chimney in the crux pitch above. Derek would have to combine the two packs into one and carry it up the pitch. I told him I'd try and drop a line to haul it, but if I couldn't he'd have to sling it from his harness below him to climb the chimney.

I headed up the crux pitch, behind the second of the team below. The chimney pitch had felt unexpectedly hard because of the cold and I was a bit concerned how I'd do on this crux pitch. But my hands were warm now and it went smoothly. The crux moves at the top felt ridiculously easy. I clipped the fixed nut at the start and didn't feel the need to place another piece until I was just below the belay and waiting for Mike (a guy from Tennessee on his first try at the Diamond) to make some room for me.

I joined Mike and put Derek on belay. He moved laboriously up the lower stretches of the pitch, feeling the steepness and weight of the pack on his back. As soon as I got to the middle mark on the rope, I clipped into a sling, tied into the middle of the rope and anchored that, and then untied from my end of the rope and snaked it down the wall to Derek. The rope piled up in the bottom of the chimney and Derek had to climb the very techy 5.9+ section with the pack.

When Derek could reach the haul end, he took off the pack and attached it to the rope. I hauled it up on one of the Micro-Traxions, which I'm an expert at setting up...NOT! Derek was patient with me and I got it figured out and hauled the pack up to the belay.

Derek styled the squeeze chimney and then cruised the crux section. I gave him some beta so that he wouldn't struggle. When he paused at the hand jam and didn't seem to know what to do next I said, "Anton likes to grab around on the left side of that pillar." Derek did so and cruised the crux up to the belay. He was psyched. I was psyched. The Diamond was in the bag. A late start Diamond! So cool. So lucky.

I led the traverse pitch over to the rappel anchors, which we wouldn't use, and Derek followed, wearing the pack. He led on by and up to the junction with Kiener's Route and our first taste of the sun since the traverse on the second pitch. We rejoiced.

After switching to our running shoes and packing up, we trudged slowly up the steep terrain to the Step Across move. Here we paused to distribute the ashes and say a few words. Derek videoed it for Sheri. With damp eyes, we continued to the summit, where we put the last pitch of ashes on the summit marker. Wind didn't blow these away so, after taking a photo, Derek crouched low and blew the last bit of Stewart's ashes to the winds of Longs Peak. It was perfect.

We descended the North Face to the rappel. I sent Derek down on a single line so that he could go 200 feet. Phil then caught us and I sent him down on the single line as well. I then did two rappels on the doubled line and joined Derek.

We hiked out just us two. Phil said he'd catch us, but we were moving fast enough, I guess, where he didn't. We got back to trailhead at 5:17 p.m. I had predicted 5 p.m. to Sheri. We topped the Diamond at 2 p.m. The weather was perfect all day long and Derek got his first ascent of the Diamond and his tenth of Longs Peak. I'm still feeling pretty great about how this day worked out.